May 21, 2009
Torture Is As American As Apple Pie

Once again Noam Chomsky brings us back to reality in this essay. I’m posting this minutes before President Obama’s address on closing our prison at Guantánamo Bay. We will see what we will see.

None of this is to say that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld et al. did not introduce important innovations. In ordinary American practice, torture was largely farmed out to subsidiaries, not carried out by Americans directly in their own government-established torture chambers.

As Allan Nairn, who has carried out some of the most revealing and courageous investigations of torture, points out: “What the Obama [ban on torture] ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system’s torture, which is done by foreigners under U.S. patronage. Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so.”

Obama did not shut down the practice of torture, Nairn observes, but “merely repositioned it,” restoring it to the American norm, a matter of indifference to the victims. “[H]is is a return to the status quo ante,” writes Nairn, “the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more U.S.-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years…”

An argument can be made that implementation of the CIA’s “torture paradigm” never violated the 1984 Torture Convention, at least as Washington interpreted it. McCoy points out that the highly sophisticated CIA paradigm developed at enormous cost in the 1950s and 1960s, based on the “KGB’s most devastating torture technique,” kept primarily to mental torture, not crude physical torture, which was considered less effective in turning people into pliant vegetables.

McCoy writes that the Reagan administration then carefully revised the International Torture Convention “with four detailed diplomatic ‘reservations’ focused on just one word in the convention’s 26-printed pages,” the word “mental.” He continues: “These intricately-constructed diplomatic reservations re-defined torture, as interpreted by the United States, to exclude sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain — the very techniques the CIA had refined at such great cost.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at May 21, 2009 09:53 AM
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If you go back into accounts of the 1919-1920 Palmer Raids you find similar MO's of abuse. Which suggests these methods were handed down in an unbroken professional tradition until they reached people like prison guard Charles Graner, who were dumb enough to pose for pictures with their victims.

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on May 21, 2009 1:43 PM

And for a more recent example than Martha's, Anthony Poshepny aka Tony Poe received the CIA's highest award twice and was known for having heads and ears cut off of "enemies", i.e. those with the "wrong", according to Cold War standards, political views. He was awarded the CIA Star twice, long after after the cut off ears and beheading incidents. So it's no secret that we as a country have engaged in the most horrible behavior imaginable including murder throughout our history.

But something dramatic has changed. The Republicans tried to make torture the official and acknowledged policy of the United States and may have succeeded. When we made torture official and acknowledged US policy, we set an example for our citizens such that no decent person can "believe" in the United States of America anymore. And that is a devastating blow to the future of this country.

When I was a child I believed and now I no longer believe, but no child with a reasonable degree of common sense and any sense of morality can believe in an America as expressed by Dick Cheney, George Bush and the millions of Americans just like them. I am of the opinion that we do need "true believers" that we are a great nation in order to have a majority of people who will work to make the country and the world a better place for people to live. Corrupt, morally depraved and totalitarian nations do not endure. And we are some of or all of that.

So yes, nothing has changed and yet everything has changed. We may left the coming generations with nothing good to believe in about our country. And that is all it takes for a nation to rot from the inside out and ultimately fail.

Posted by: Buck on May 21, 2009 3:38 PM

Allan Nairn is truly the man, time after time. Ask Amy Goodman.

And is this the famous Alfred McCoy we're talking about? Or some McCoy of alternative realness?

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on May 22, 2009 3:48 AM
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